Add Some Hamptonality to Your Holiday – Plus Win a Free Night at Hampton Hotels

exterior When you live in New York City everyone wants to visit you.  With the theater, museums, great restaurants, and all of the fantastic landmarks and sites – and amazing shopping of course – NYC is a fabulous place like no other.  Add in the holiday lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Rockettes and all of the magic that makes NYC especially glittery at holiday time, and it’s easy to see why friends and family want to come and stay.  However, there is one other reality about living in NYC, the lack of space.  Stepping over aerobeds and no privacy aren’t exactly the makings of a great visit. I love the idea of putting up family at a reasonably priced hotel instead.  Hampton Hotels has launched a wonderful new Hampton Holiday Program where the central theme is making guests feel taken care of and providing a clean, warm place to call their own.  All of the 1,900 Hampton locations feature:

  • Free, hot breakfast with fresh-baked waffles. (This is ESSENTIAL when traveling with kids!)
  • Free wired or wireless high-speed internet access in all guest rooms, so you can post about your holiday travels while visiting family in other towns.
  • The clean and fresh Hampton bed® – so you can rest up for your big holiday weekends.

GuestRoom_HR[1] I always enjoy staying at the Hampton Inn in Maine when we visit our girls for camp visiting day.  We’ve always been impressed with the service, the breakfast and the clean rooms.  Plus, the free wifi is a must for me!  Now I know all of those little things add up to “Hamptonality.”  Also, I love earning Hilton Honors points! Here in NYC it’s nice to know that even if we can’t squeeze people into our apartment there are ways we can personalize their stay in a hotel.  Hampton has partnered with entertaining expert, Jenny Steffens Hobick, to provide simple tips for making out-of-towners feel at home – especially when they’re staying in a nearby hotel. I love these tips especially:

  • Plan a welcome bag with treats, water, (and my tip in NYC – a metrocard and a list of great NYC apps to download!)
  • Hire a babysitter one night and host the kids at your place so the grown-ups can have a kid-free night out together.
  • Make time for resting.  This is so important especially in NYC!  Set a time where everyone just meets to relax, have a hot drink and snacks and regroup.

Here in NYC the Hampton Inn Times Square North is ideally situated for walking to the theater, Central Park and midtown shopping.  Plus it’s close to every subway imaginable. Everyone could use some time away, whether it’s a quick trip or a longer vacation.  And it’s so nice when everyone has their own space too. So, I’m giving away a one night stay to use at any of the 1,900 US Hampton locations!

How to Enter the Hampton Be My Guest Giveaway:

Follow @beccasara on Twitter and tweet your “Hamptonality” tip.  What’s the thing you do to make your guests feel special?   Be sure to include @beccasara and #HamptonHoliday.  Then leave a comment below with a link to your tweet! You can also follow Hampton throughout the year for great travel ideas and promotions:

One winner will be chosen at random using on December 31st  at 12:00pm Eastern.  Hampton Hotels will mail the winner a “Be My Guest” card, which entitles the bearer to (1) free night stay at a Hampton location.  Winner will be notified via twitter and must respond within 48 hours to claim the prize.  Open to U.S. Residents 18+ only. This is a sponsored post.  Compensation was provided by Hampton Hotel via MomTrends.  The opinions expressed herein are mine and are not indicative of the opinions of Hampton or Momtrends


Maine and Camp Visiting Day (lobster and lots of hugs)

For the second year in a row my daughters headed to Maine for overnight camp for seven weeks.  If you gasped at that number 7 I am guessing you were not a camper- me neither.  But, my husband was a serial camper, starting at 4 weeks when he was 7 and then 8 weeks when he was 8.  And he never looked back.  To him, summer meant, and still means, only one thing – camp.  My daughters put on their bravest smiles and boarded the bus last year bound for Maine, and we held our breath.  Luckily, they inherited the camp gene.

This year, they are veterans.  They knew exactly what they wanted to master – long rope water skiing – and what they needed to pack that wasn’t on the official packing list – school spirit attire, jean shorts, neon socks (that’s a big deal at a uniform camp like theirs.)  But, seven weeks is still seven weeks.  They are only 10, and homesickness is bound to sneak in, especially when it rains for a few days in a row like it did their first week this summer.

So, visiting day is this wonderfully bittersweet break right in the middle.  The girls are settled in and have found their groove.  We’ve adjusted to the quiet, to the empty fridge, to the laundry and dishes that barely need to be done – and gotten spoiled by the unfamiliar absence of needing to find a babysitter in order to go out to dinner, or a movie, or anything!  But, I have to admit, I barely slept the week before visiting day because I was so excited to see them, and anxious to see – were they really having a good time?  Did they make friends?  Do they seem content?  You just never know.  And, I should add here that my daughters’ camp does not share pictures.  For this I am eternally grateful.  There is also no electricity in the bunks, no tech allowed at all at camp, and an adherence to old-fashioned camping skills – canoeing is required, marksmanship and archery are taken very seriously, and it’s all girls.

We don’t own a car, but I was incredibly fortunate to have a car-fairy godmother in the form of the wonderful people at General Motors!  They lent us this outrageously fabulous GMC Terrain for our trip.  My Super was outside hosing down the sidewalk when we were loading the car and now, a week later, he still can’t stop asking me about that Terrain.  First I have to mention that my husband grew up right outside Detroit.  My whole family is from Detroit, and I was born there.  So, we had an extra hefty dose of happiness driving this American Beauty.

I’m a tech girl, not a car girl – though I realize these things are not at all mutually exclusive – and the Terrain did not disappoint.  Pure joy for me was plugging my fully audiobook-loaded iPod into the mp3 outlet and having it show up in the in-dash screen.   Plus it had Pandora and Sirius and bluetooth sync and all sorts of fun tech buttons and menus to play around with on our drive.  The hours to Maine flew by.

Our audiobook for the trip?  Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.  I will review that in another post, but if you also know nothing about James Garfield, his assassination, the role of Dr. Lister and Alexander Graham Bell, and the origins of pleading insanity as a defense – read it!  This is an unbelievable part of American history.

And so to Maine we went.  We made an unplanned pit stop for lunch near New Haven at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, not knowing that it was a famous pizza joint.  Worth the drive alone.  Check out the ginormous brick ovens that must go 30 feet deep.  The pizza was spectacular, but next time I’m getting the clam pizza instead of the tomato.

When we arrived in Maine we headed to…Target.  When a city girl leaves the city it’s really not for salty fresh air and trees, it’s for big, beautiful Target!   Stocked up on supposedly forbidden visiting day candy, toiletries that actually needed replenishing after 4 weeks at camp (only toothpaste by the way – the soap, barely touched), and of course paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent and Ziploc bags – because that crap is super expensive in Manhattan!  I felt like one of those crazy coupon ladies, but I had a GMC Terrain with a back the size of my first apartment and you better believe I was filling it with Target priced goods!

You can’t go to Maine and not eat lobster.  We didn’t go to the place we loved last year in Naples, The Lobster Pound.  We were so tired and wiped out we just headed into Portland proper and went to the Portland Lobster Company.   Here’s what I’ll say about that: Meh.  Truly.  I’m a lobster freak.   I spent many, many summers in Cape Cod and Sag Harbor, and dirty lobster eating was one of the things I looked forward to most in the summer.  This place might be good any other time other than visiting day weekend when it is swarmed with crazy NY parents, but it was not worth the one hour wait for our food, or the price, which wasn’t great considering we’re in the midst of the biggest lobster glut ever.  However, the little vibrating lobster that signals when your food is ready.  So cute.

So, one point for that.

Finally, the next morning we headed to camp.  And it was awesome.  My girls were healthy, tan, beaming and so happy.  It’s hard to explain that moment when you see your kids emerge from the big wood lodge, pause at the top of the steps to find you standing the crowd of hundreds of eager parents, and then run down the steps into your arms.  It’s pretty amazing.  It has the power to erase every exhausted annoyed utterance of the year before, the bickering, the frustrations of parenting, and remind you that all o this having kids thing is pretty damn awesome.  So, yes, having a break from each other can be a very good thing.

What happens at camp does not stay at camp.  What happens at camp can truly help build a child into a stronger, more confident, more self-reliant, and more resilient person.  Having to intentionally capsize a canoe to prove you can get back in and save yourself in order to pass on to the next level? That will change you.  So will climbing mountains, living with 12 strangers in one big room, having to take care of your body, make your own food choices, and actually remember to use soap in the shower.  And maybe in this day and age, the forced state of being completely unplugged.  I know my daughters do not have the same perseverance with me around as they do at camp – they push themselves to try new things and tackle new activities at camp in a way that they would not do at home.  Why, I do not know.  But, I also don’t care.  I’m just glad camp is there to give them the experiences and life skills that seem harder and harder to come by in our over-scheduled, hyper connected world.

We ended our time in Maine with a great meal at the EastEnder in Portland.  Portland is full of small, locavore restaurants and this is one of them.  This big bowl full of lobster poutine was way better than the whole lobster we had the night before, all sweet with fresh lobster, creamy with cheese curds, and salty with super skinny fries underneath soaking it all up.

The rest of the meal was yummy too.  Like these homemade s’mores icecream sandwiches.

There’s a reason they call Maine Vacationland – though I think Campland would be apt too.  Nothing says summer to me like a road trip, the ocean, shellfish, homemade ice cream and happy, sun-kissed kids.  This weekend was the perfect encapsulation of all of those ingredients – and we still have 6 more weeks until the first day of school!

GMC  provided me with the incredibly fabulous GMC Terrain for our trip.  But, all those opinions, as always, they’re my own.

One Post, A New Friend and A Look Back on Jewish Italy

"Little Jerusalem", the Jewish Ghett...

Image via Wikipedia

Two years ago today I was in Pitigliano Italy, site of one of the oldest Jewish towns in Italy – though of course not anymore.  I blogged every day of our month-long stay in Italy and Pitigliano was particularly hard to write about.  I thought about this post recently because when I wrote it I was still not very involved in twitter, my Facebook friends were all old high school friends or new real life friends, and believe it or not I had no idea if or why people read my blog.  I wrote, I published and I didn’t care about what happened after that.

But, when I came back from Italy where I had been posting every single day – and still not looking at my stats! – I was shocked to see that my blog readership had exploded.  I thought I was writing about our trip purely for my family and good friends, but it had been passed around and shared and so on.  It was my first real lesson in how far my writing could go on the web if I kept consistently putting it out there.  That’s when I discovered twitter too.  It was Amy Oztan,, who shoved me in to the twittersphere, but it was meeting Jennifer Perillo that made me stay.

Jennifer’s blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen is some of the best food and good old-fashioned writing you will find anywhere.  An Italian girl from Brooklyn married to a nice Jewish boy (ok – man), Jennifer was looking for and writing about Italian Jewish food.  I told her about the cookbook I wrote about in my Pitigliano post, which was the very one she was reading at the time  – and then that spurred a full-out conversation about the Jews of Italy, my visit to Pitigliano and so much more.  Jennifer linked to this post from her recipe on egg-free gnocchi.  And so a friendship was born – of twitter, but thankfully into real life.

So, in a Travel Tuesday reprise – here’s my post about Pitigliano and the testimony to how our food culture endures and social media can keep the conversation going.

Pitigliano – It’s So Not (Jewish) Ghetto

NYC iPhone Apps Every BlogHer Attendee Should Have

You’re coming to New York City For BlogHer10. You know that most of your time is already taken up by all of the crazy BlogHer events but still you’re going to have some free time right?  These are the iphone apps I can’t live without as a native New Yorker.  They will help you make the most of your free time and maybe even look like a local (NO FOLDOUT MAPS!). Staring at your smart-phone while walking down a crowded street is your first step to fitting in…

  1. HOPSTOP (free) – take public transportation.  And even if you think you will never set foot in a NYC Subway you may find yourself stranded without a taxi in sight, laden with swag and just tired.  Hopstop will save you.  It knows where you are, you tell it where you want to go – and you can even select bus only to be a true New Yorker (the buses are New Yorkers’ little secret.  Super safe, AC blasting and you get a lovely tour of the city to boot) – and off you go to your destination without worry.
  2. EVENTBRITE EASY ENTRY – (free) You’ve got lots of BlogHer parties to keep track of and all those paperless tickets to show at the door – use the EventBrite App and see all of your events in one place without having to scramble through your email.
  3. OPEN TABLE -(free) Yes it’s good for lots of cities, but it’s a life saver in NYC.  Find out which restaurants near you have availability, get instant options, and make your reservation.  Almost anywhere you want to eat is in there.
  4. SEAMLESS WEB (free) – Food delivery at your fingertips.  More restaurants than you can imagine.  Place your order, put in your credit card, and just sign when the nice delivery man brings the food right to you.  Real New Yorkers do NOT pick up food.
  5. CENTRAL PARK NYC ($2.99)- Even better on an ipad.  Don’t even think of not going to Central Park when BlogHer is only 5 blocks away.  Take a breather and go for an early morning stroll, or run if you’re one of those crazy fitness bloggers, or a gorgeous lunch break.  This app makes navigating the park easy and enjoyable.   Plus it’s really cool to show your kids when you get home.
  6. VILLAGE VOICE (free) – Tells you what to do, where to do it and why you should.
  7. AT THE BOOTH – ($0.99) Want to know what’s at the 1/2 price Broadway ticket booth in Times Square before you go wait in that line?  The app will tell you.
  8. MIDTOWN IN MY POCKET – ($1.99) Best cupcakes by the Hilton?   Closest Art Gallery?  Manolo Blahnik?  This app covers midtown (the area where the Hilton is located) by category, shows you on a map, and even lets you tag favorites and show you local deals.  There’s also a SOHO in My Pocket free App if you’re heading downtown.
  9. WHITE NOISE – ($1.99) – We live in small 2-bedroom apartment, so we’ve always used a white noise machine in the bedrooms.  Now I find it indispensible in hotel rooms world-wide, but particularly in a hotel full of partying bloggers!  Especially good if you’re sharing a room with a snorer or early riser.
  10. FLASHLIGHT – (free) – Another great app if you’re sharing a room but you and your roomie have different bedtimes.  Also works great as a booklight on the fly or (just saying) there’s a blackout!

Do you have an NYC app you can’t live without?  Or a travel app that makes your life better no matter where you are?  Let me know in the comments so I can add it to the list!

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